Edu-cat-ing Cindy
Copyright 2006, Sarah Hartwell

The young chap on the doorstep shuffled his feet in an embarrassed fashion and consulted some paperwork in his hand. I waited for the inevitable questions: "Do you ever think of God?"

"Mrs Hartwell?" he asked.


"I'm Fred Bloggs from the Local Education Authority."

"Yes." I wondered if the LEA was now so poor it had resorted to doorstep donations to keep schools open. For an extra fiver would they track down the little buggers who'd stoned my greenhouse and put a firework on the shed roof?

"It seems you haven't been sending Cindy to school."

"I don't believe it would be of any benefit to her," I said. This had the potential for amusement.

"Aaaah, can I come in?"

"Nope." I intended to keep him uncomfortably shuffling on the doorstep.

"Oh. How old is Cindy?" he asked

"Ten this Easter." This was shaping up into an interesting conversation. I decided to get plenty of mileage from it.

Fred Bloggs checked his paperwork. Being forced to stand on the doorstep this involved shuffling varous forms and a brown folder. I almost took pity on him.

"And she hasn't been to school since ...?"

"She hasn't been to school since I adopted her. As I said, it wouldn't be of any benefit to her."

"Aaah ... she has special needs? Home schooling? We don't have any record of that. Or of the adoption." Fred Bloggs furrowed his brow in perplexity.

"No, she's perfectly healthy but ...." I was planning to put the poor misguided fool out of his misery.

"You realise you will be taken to court if you contine to withhold her from school?"

"Feel free, but you're going to come out of it looking pretty silly." This was more like it - it was starting to get interesting.

"Beg pardon Mrs Hartwell?"

"You're going to look rather daft taking me to court."

He looked confused. Evidently this was not the effect threats of court were meant to have on parents who didn't send their youngsters to school. Just then a black and white fluffball ambled down the stairs to see what all the fuss is about and whether it involves a dollop of Whiskas. I picked her up. Normally Cindy hid from strangers, but since the departure of my ex-husband in pursuit of a more fertile woman, Cindy had become much braver.

"Nice cat," said Mr Bloggs, going for the 'polite conversation' tactics.

"She is, isn't she. Mr Bloggs, meet Cindy."

Gratifyingly, Fred Bloggs' jaw dropped and he did a creditable impersonation of a goldfish.

"Do you still think she'd benefit from going to school?"


"Do you still want to take me to court?"

"In the, errm, circumstances I don't think it , errm ..." Mr Bloggs' vocabulary failed him in this novel situation.

A moment later, after Mr Bloggs had scuttled back to his car and was in full flow on his mobile phone, and when I finally managed to stop laughing long enough to give Cindy that dollop of Whiskas, I made a mental note not to enter competitions in the names of my cats.

By a strange coincidence, that weekend I had a phone call from Doug, a friend in Bristol. I'd sent Doug's cat, Nutmeg, a sachet of luxury food from a cat show.

"Did Nutmeg like the food?" I asked after a few minutes of work-related conversation.

"I had to go and pick it up from the Post Office."

"Sorry about that."

"Because it was addressed to Nutmeg Smith they refused to let me have it without a letter of authority from Nutmeg."

"Whoops. What did you do?" Knowing Doug's sense of humour he'd printed off a letter and signed it with a pawprint.

"I showed them Nutmeg's vaccination card and a photo of her."

"Sensible ..."

"They thought it was quite amusing, but they asked me to ask you not to address packages to Nutmeg unless it's care of me.

I wonder if he'll get a visit from the LEA main asking why Nutmeg, aged 8, isn't attending the local Primary School?